Third Times the Charm (Or How I Cheated And Learnt About Myself)

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This year will be the third time I attempt to do NaNoWriMo, and as it draws closer and closer, I’m starting to feel that I should really get some ideas in place before I start. What’s going to happen? Who, at the very least, is my protagonist? …. No idea.

The first time I had a go at this crazy old scheme, where you have to write 50,000 words in the month of November, it was 2005. I was living in a big old student house in the middle of the icy, dangerous outskirts of Durham, with barking Alsatians, a barbed wire fence opposite my bedroom window* and 12-year-olds smoking out of the front door**. I was cheating. By which I mean I was still out to write 50,000 words, but it wasn’t new fiction. It was a novel I was trying to write (and one I still haven’t finished). I’d got about 20,000 words written up. I was using NaNoWriMo to get me further on the same old story. Gasp, that’s breaking the rules, you say. Well, it didn’t work anyway. I ran into a writer’s block, and as the story was precious to me, I couldn’t just bulldoze through it with some new idea / character / plot change like you can in a “proper” NaNoWriMo. So, I think I got about 22,000 new words down and stopped.

I tried again last year. Only this time, I cheated big style. See, I wasn’t really into the idea of writing a whole novel. I wanted to write a long short story or two, so I was using the word count as an impetus to get me tapping away on the keyboard. I actually got a complete short story down, one passage of which you can see here. (I should actually go back to that story and re-write it. It’s been a year now, I’m sure I’ve got fresh ideas for it. Also, there was always a scene missing.) I also decided that any poetry I wrote would be worth a triple word score, like Scrabble. And STILL, with all that cheating, I made it to 35,000 and no further.

Despite this blatant bending of the rules, I don’t regret either decision. Both ways, joining the NaNoWriMo scheme made me write more. When I saw other people from my local area bumping up our collective word score, it gave me a sense of nationalism (Woo! Come on Spain, we can beat Italy!). When I had friends doing it, too, it gave me someone to compete against. But most of all, it got me in front of a computer doing something I love – being creative. And I can look back on the things I wrote in those times and look at them with pride. A lot of it is pretty good, and I like feeling good about achieving something physical.

This year, though, I’m doing it properly. It’s going to be a new story idea, something I come up with hopefully in this week before November 1st. I´m going to try and write 2,000 words a day, because I know there’ll be missed days along there somewhere.

And I’ve got people to compete against and encourage. Some Barcelona teachers, past and present. My boss-and-friend-and-mother-of-my-future-godson, Claire. And quite possibly my twin brother, too. And as we almost never compete, it’ll be quite nice to get some rivalry going.

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Especially as I’m going to win.

* I lived opposite a huge Tescos. the fence around the space where the lorries dropped the goods every morning.

** It was the only place they could hide from security cameras. Also, they climbed up our walls and peered in at the windows.

Tempting Bathos

Hello. Everywhere I go these days, I carry a little notebook with me. The current notebook has drawings of palm trees, random thoughts, story ideas, and at the back, reminders and notes on some stand up I still need to fix. Me writing funny things down in my notebook has led to some strange situations, where friends tell jokes and then look at me, as if to say, “What? Aren’t you writing it in your clever little intellectual notebook?”

Also, since my lovely old mini camera broke, I’ve been using to write down drunken musings – both my own and any I can get out of the people with whom I am drinking.  From these occasions, I came to the conclusion that I was more creative when drunk.

With this in mind, I dared myself to take part in a social experiment I devised. I would drink a bottle of wine, 1009525554_5121b39880alone, on a quiet night, and see what happened. If it was a success and it made my write in floods, I would become what Kipling once deemed irredeemable – a man who becomes an alcoholic quietly and in private, a drunk artist, sinking lower and lower until all self-esteem, credibility and hygeine were lost.

Half way through the bottle, I decided it would be more fun to watch a DVD than write, so I did. After the DVD and wine were finished, I thought, “Oh crap! I’d better write,” and in a spurt of very worrying creativity, I bashed out three medium length poems and a big part of a short story I’ve been stuck on. Resigned to my fate as a closet drunk, I toasted my success with the dregs, burped, and carted myself off for a mere 6 hours of sleep.

The good news, though, is that when I read my masterpieces this morning, I found, amongst other extracts, these bits:

1) We haven’t spoke in months.
Sure, Facebook, once or twice.
Does that count? Still, it’s
your voice, this time. Different.

(note the bad present perfect in the first line)

2) And for WHAT? That is the question,
It’s not to be or not, it’s Yorick,
the “comic” stopper in an otherwise
tragic tale. Gravediggers indeed.

and, from the short story:

3) Was this one of the “stolen” horses I’d heard abou?If so, how would Mitchell know?But then the light came on.

Hmm.

One lesson from this is, as I’m sure you all already know, is that when we’re drunk, we think we’re better than we are. And what we think is poignant and deep is actually a load of codswallop. Seriously, all 3 poems, while based on reasonable subjects, are just plain terrible. I can salvage about 5 halflines from 30 full ones in each poem.

HOWEVER, The short story stuff is actually quite good. Not just the material – there’s a great scene where the guy holds an imaginary conversation with an intimidating horse that I could never have written sober – but also that the brash confidence got me through a passage I was stuck on, and barged me through an extra thousand words.

SO I’ve decided to cut alcohol from my writing. Except as a sledgehammer to my writer’s blocks. And I’ll rely on you guys for an intervention if my drinking gets too heavy and solitary. Look after me!

My Favourite Philosophers
My Favourite Philosophers